Address: 2280 Twin Valley Drive, Dubuque
Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Friday
Bruce Radtke knows the value of information.
After all, he gets paid to destroy it every day.
He walked into the warehouse of his Dubuque business, Tri-State Shred, on a recent morning and examined a mountain of bales of shredded paper, made up of millions of minuscule scraps of what used to be documents.
It appeared harmless in its destroyed state, but Radtke insisted that they be given high levels of security. All it takes is a stray scrap with a small strand of numbers and someone who knows how to use them, he said.
“Identity theft happens all the time, and it can be surprisingly easy for someone to steal your identity if you’re not careful,” he said. “That’s why we need to take handling all confidential information seriously.”
For the past 20 years, Tri-State Shred has shredded documents and materials for local businesses to protect personal information. The company’s specialized trucks roll through the city, stopping at local businesses and chewing up documents with an attached shredder.
Afterward, the scraps are transported back to Tri-State Shred’s headquarters, baled and prepared for shipment to a paper mill. Tri-State Shred maintains complete control of the shredded material, all the way up to its arrival at the mill, Radtke said.
For Radtke, nothing can be left to chance.
“You can offer a client almost everything, but you have to follow through,” he said. “We promise that this material will be safely disposed of, and we make sure that happens.”
In the 1990s, Radtke worked as a truck driver while his wife operated White Florist in Dubuque. The idea for Tri-State Shred came when he was helping his wife dispose of documents for her business and he found himself unsatisfied with how the paper was destroyed.
“I noticed that it wasn’t being confidentially handled,” Radtke said. “I figured there had to be a better way to do it. Six months later, I bought my first truck.”
Radtke described the early years of his business as difficult. Document shredding is a business that relies on the trust of companies willing to hand over sensitive material, he said. Earning that trust took time.
“It was extremely tough,” Radtke said. “One business told us if we last a year, then they’ll do business with us. They have now been with us for 19 years.”
Dupaco Community Credit Union has worked with Tri-State Shred since the latter’s opening. Todd Link, Dupaco chief risk officer, said Tri-State Shred makes local businesses more comfortable with disposing of their documents.
“They establish great rapport and relationships,” Link said. “You know who you are giving these materials to, and it’s good to have that personal relationship.”
Tri-State Shred employs five full-time and three part-time employees. On average, it shreds about 80 tons of paper per month.
Radtke attributed his success to his devoted service to his clients and a willingness to meet their needs.
“We’ll do some work on Saturdays or nights if needed,” he said. “You have to be willing to do whatever works for our clients.”
Ryan Sempf, vice president of government and external affairs for Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, said businesses such as Tri-State Shred are critical for many companies that produce substantial paperwork.
“It’s definitely an essential service for businesses,” Sempf said. “It’s good to see a business like that is continuing to grow.”
The business also has adapted to shifts in technology.
Along with paper, Tri-State Shred will dispose of any other material containing sensitive information, such as CDs and hard drives, Radtke said.
In the company’s early years, Radtke often was told his business would die out as physical paper was replaced by email and computer documentation, he said. But now, Tri-State Shred is taking in more paper documents than it ever has.
“The amount of material per stop has decreased somewhat, but the amount of stops have increased,” Radtke said. “Everyone has joked about the end of the paper trail, and we just bought our third shred truck. We are positioned for the future also, for our trucks are capable to destroy electronic media.”
Radtke said that he anticipates his business will continue to grow during the next 10 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down the need for document shredding, and as Radtke has learned over the years, there will never be a decline in the value of information.
“I hope to double our business 10 years from now,” he said. “I think things are looking promising for us.”